Santa Claus lived long ago in a far away land, far from the United States, in the hills of Bavaria before Thomas Nast drew the first caricature of a rollie-pollie man who evolved into the one depicted in advertisements today. Santa was an original Bohemian, you might say. He was well known in his community as a toy designer and artist who crafted a variety of toys including wooden horses, paper kites, ceramic dolls, stuffed animals and one of-a-kind puppets. In his studio, located on a mountainside, he used his imagination to create characters that portrayed personality aspects belonging to people around him or of characters that he dreamed of in the night. There were no computers, no Second Life, no avatars in Santa’s time, only people or animal characters from life, myth or legend that one could remember or visualize in their heads. Santa fashioned the toys out of available materials such as wood, horsehair, fabric, paper, metal, stone, string and pigment.
Santa spent long hours working in his studio. One hour slipped into the next without much notice because he was engrossed in the creative process, which required a fair amount of ‘letting go’ of responsibilities and burdens of daily life. Santa, for several days a week, let go of schedules and obligations. Sometimes he didn’t answer the door if someone came to call and he didn’t want to be interrupted. People weren’t offended. They understood that when he was available he would give them his undivided attention. Santa didn’t do his work to escape. He was content with his life. He didn’t work for overtime pay, fame or approval but for the meaning that this work gave to his life. People in his community and the surrounding villages recognized his talents not because he had a masters’ degree in fine art or because of an agent or publicist. He didn’t even take master card or visa at his studio, yet people came in droves when he opened his studio the day after Thanskgiving to see his new designs and buy last years toys at a discount.
Santa was an artist. For those who have not experienced it, the creative process is much like falling in love, where lovers lose themselves in the flow of instinctual feelings. In those days creativity and love for that matter were more about mystery and feelings rather than logic and thought. Santa was open learning about the variety of feelings humans could feel. He was someone who had escaped early childhood traumas but he was aware that many people had not. His curiosity made him a good listener. People opened up to him easily. He learned that many people suffered as children and that those who didn’t get help continued to suffer into adulthood and old age. His work was an attempt to lift the spirit of children, youth and adults alike through characters that not only got over obstacles in their lives but who also thrived in spite of great odds.
When Santa met his life partner, who later became his wife, he ‘knew’ immediately that they would be together for a very long time. She must have been open, like him. Otherwise, she would have thought him a fool. Instead she understood that in an instant of love, a glimpse into the future can open in the mind’s eye. Santa saw himself together with Mrs. Claus. Santa not only loved his wife from the moment he met her, he loved their children, and the children of the community. He loved gay people. He loved old people. He loved babies. He loved animals. He loved average people and he loved people who were a little off. Santa loved quirky people especially for their quirks. In fact, he would say that he loved people’s imperfections because he found perfection a little boring. Santa found that loving many did not minimize his capacity to love a few deeply.
If you asked him, he would say that he also loved his work. While in the studio he was able to tap into a seemingly endless stream of ideas that came to him from the depths of a vast pool of ideas and imagery. In the studio he brought together his observations and drawings of everyday people as well as people of prominence from the surrounding area. He blended physical and personality traits of people like the old man with gnarled fingers who operated the local grocery store. Fingers that he had seen grow more gnarled over the years, as the man continued lifting bushels of produce that local farmers brought in for trade. He gave one of his puppets gnarled fingers and the prophetic wisdom of the local bishop who taught people about life through fables. Santa drew a design for a puppet of a handsome, middle-aged woman with red nails and green eyes who had very good posture. She was considered the matchmaker of the village and surrounding communities. Santa was fascinated by her memory of people, their children, their qualities, strengths and weaknesses. She once inquired about the grand niece of the local librarian. She remembered that the niece who was quite athletic was a good match for a young fellow a few towns over who was a discus thrower whose mother had been nagging him to put down the discus and take up dancing in hopes of grandchildren someday.
Santa traded his toys at the local markets in exchange for the things that he needed for himself and his family such as food, hardware, fabrics and art making supplies. Santa didn’t have to pay attention to the financial markets to plan for his old age. He and his wife had a few children and as was customary in those days, grown children took care of their parents. People who didn’t have children were taken care of by other adults who were touched in some way by their lives. That was just the way it was. People stayed close together…it was a basic survival instinct. Of course, Santa was not the only artist in the community, other artists thrived the same way he did. There were singer songwriters, actors, painters, woodworkers, composers, writers, dancers, muralists, costume designers, and architects. In fact, Santa’s wife was a talented seamstress. She designed costumes for puppets and actors who brought them to life on stage by adding their voice and movement. In those days, a village with a number of artists was considered wealthy.
In Santa’s community, artists combined their talents and put on stage plays at the public theater. Stage plays brought people together through storytelling. Often plays were written to include dialogue and personality traits of some of the locals, some of whom were sitting in the audience. This often caused uproarious laughter and acknowledgment. In addition, stage plays often reminded people of the larger themes and issues of concern in people’s lives.
How do people with artists’ hearts live in contemporary culture where there is little time for art making, fantasy or love? In contemporary culture making a living and saving for old age is forefront on people’s minds. There are many people with artists’ hearts who have never tried to express themselves creatively because life has not allowed them such freedom. Our culture supports children in art making but by the time a person reaches their late teens the pursuit of art is replaced by study for college entrance exams. As adults many people forfeit access to the language of creativity and focus solely on linear pursuits. Some people judge creativity as a selfish act, when actually expression is a resource for self-knowledge. Creativity is the language of communication between a person’s inner (unconscious) and outer (conscious) worlds. In fact, the best gift we can give to others is our conscious awareness. Why? Because when we have knowledge of our experiences, triggers, and behaviors we are able to change our inner life and outward behavior. Creativity is a language that can bring to consciousness that which has been unconscious through symbol and metaphor. How does a person know they have issues that need therapeutic work? When a person is easily set off to anger, frustration or tears. When life feels overwhelming and the mind cannot let go and relax. When there is little satisfaction in life. Or when life’s grief and losses do not ease.
Art psychotherapy uses creative processes and psychotherapeutic tools to identify issues, experiences, behaviors and schemas that are responsible for a client’s life condition. Verbal processing is used to identify the types of changes that are needed and a plan is created to replace maladaptive coping with healthy adaptation. Artists are not exempt from emotional problems. Their art making and creativity alone do not transform their lives without psychotherapeutic processes and interventions with a therapist who understands the importance of the creative process and can use a clients art form as part of their treatment.
What happens when an artist is creatively blocked? Artists who have creative blocks experience a separation from the source of their creativity. Julie Cameron says in the Artist’s Way that a “daily commitment of ½ hour” to her writing program will unblock creativity and begin the flow of art production. The Artist’s Way has worked for many people because they are able to make a commitment. However, when there is an internal emotional issue that prevents a person from making a commitment to begin or to complete a creative project, therapy is advised.
My hope is that the spirit of Santa will remind us that the greatest gift a person can give themselves and others is a healthy, work-in-progress self that is aware and doesn’t act out destructively when emotions are triggered by life’s circumstances. The healthy self is one that doesn’t hand off unfinished emotional issues to their children for them to sort out in their lifetime. The healthy self recognizes when it needs psychotherapy to unravel past experiences that have caused behavioral responses that have trapped them instead of giving them peace. Best wishes for peace in the New Year.
© Copyright 2010 by By Barbara 'Basia' Mosinski, LCAT, ATR-BC, MA, MFA, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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